Associations of social and cognitive-behavioral variables with disinhibited eating and anxiety: An ecological momentary assessment study

Ana M. Gutierrez-Colina*, Stephen Aichele, Jason M. Lavender, Natalia Sanchez, Isabel Thorstad, Lauren D. Gulley, Jill E. Emerick, Ruby Schrag, Victoria Thomas, Holly Spinner, Thomas Arnold, Andrew Heroy, Mark C. Haigney, Marian Tanofsky-Kraff, Lauren B. Shomaker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Among adolescents, disinhibited eating and anxiety commonly co-occur. Precision intervention approaches targeting unique mechanistic vulnerabilities that contribute to disinhibited eating and anxiety may therefore be helpful. However, the effectiveness of such interventions hinges on knowledge of between- and within-person associations related to disinhibited eating, anxiety, and related processes. Method: A sample of 39 adolescent females (12–17 years) with elevated anxiety and above-average weight (BMI %ile ≥ 75th) completed measures of theoretically driven social and cognitive-behavioral variables, disinhibited eating, and anxiety via ecological momentary assessment over 7 days. Data were analyzed using mixed-effects models. Results: Between-person differences in social stressors were linked to emotional eating, eating in the absence of hunger, and anxiety, whereas between-person differences in negative thoughts were associated with all disinhibited eating variables and anxiety. Between-person differences in avoidance were not related to any outcome. Additionally, between-person differences in social stressors and negative thoughts—as well as within-person deviations (from person-average levels) of social stressors, negative thoughts, and avoidance—were associated with anxiety. In turn, between-person differences in anxiety predicted eating in the absence of hunger and emotional eating, and within-person deviations in anxiety were associated with emotional eating at any given time point. Discussion: Findings support elements of both the interpersonal and cognitive-behavioral models of disinhibited eating. Differential trigger effects on anxiety, both at the between- and within-person levels, and significant associations between anxiety and all eating-related outcomes, highlight the potential utility of interventions targeting individual differences in sensitivity to anxiety triggers. Public Significance: Findings provide support for the interpersonal and cognitive-behavioral models of disinhibited eating, highlighting anxiety as a salient vulnerability and potential mechanistic factor underlying disinhibited eating. Social, cognitive, and behavioral variables were differentially related to anxiety across participants, suggesting potential for future intervention tailoring and intervention selection based on adolescents' sensitivity to anxiety as a trigger for disinhibited eating behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1213-1223
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • adolescent
  • anxiety
  • cognitive-behavioral
  • disinhibited eating
  • ecological momentary assessment
  • high body weight
  • interpersonal


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